07 September 2009

Ghana Vacation!

Actually, I have plenty to update about before I get to the vacation, so I may end up not doing it justice...


This isn't the first time I've brought up the phenomenon, I believe. My favorite kind is when we use French grammar but English words. In Burkina French, the most common way to expressive possessive is with the preposition "pour," "for." To say, "That's mine," I'd say, "ça, ç'est pour moi." A group of us went out to a nearby bar, and someone had the clever idea of bringing a bottle opener from the transit house since waitstaff sometimes have the perplexing habit of bringing beer and then not opening it until asked. When someone asked her if it was hers, she said, "No, it's for the house."

Girl's Camp!

I spent the better part of a week assisting other volunteers at a "girl's camp" they were running. Girl's camps are a really common secondary project for volunteers from all 4 sectors here, the goal in general being to encourage the girls to get as much education as they can and to try to take control of their own lives (and to live them responsibly...like not getting pregnant at 14 for instance). I helped in several sessions, and led one on first aid and origami (the process of how those two things got thrown together is still opaque to me). It was cute how the class of 25 girls chose their seating arrangement: the desks here fit three students normally, and they were in a classroom with enough desks they could even have sat one per desk and still had room to spare. Instead, they squeezed in 4 and 5 to a desk. The youngest girls we called the "cupcakes," cause they were tiny and so cute you just wanted to eat them up.

Autrement, the funniest thing that happened was the session led by a Burkinabé on family planning. His main argument for spacing out children? So that the wife will be available more often for sex, and therefore the husband less likely to cheat! In the same session, he talked about the price of condoms, and the fact that they're so cheap that even if you're using FOUR PER NIGHT you're not spending much.

One of the projects during the camp was to have the girls make liquid soap, then wander around town to sell it, having groups compete to see who could sell it the fastest. The idea was to teach them about marketing, costs and profits, etc. Can you tell this camp was run by a Small Enterprise Development volunteer? Anyway, it struck us as we were discussing the plan that it's one of the nice things about living here that it's perfectly acceptable to have 12 year old girls wandering around town. Imagine trying a similar project in the US! Although as it turns out, the girls didn't wander at all - as soon as we gave them the bottles they gave us money! It turns out they'd already talked to their family and neighbors and collected money from them to buy the soap! They told us that this, too, was a form of marketing, and we couldn't disagree.

I missed the last day, when the girls performed skits they'd written during the week. And I'm sorry I did, as there was one in which a girl got pregnant, tried to get a back-alley abortion (abortions are illegal here), then when that didn't work drank a potion to do it herself which ended up killing her. At the end they all said in unison, "Just say NO to abortion!" Hm, not EXACTLY the take-home message we were hoping for...

Old technology

In a conversation about research, I mentioned to my friend something or other about microfiche. She said many people her age (she's 24) probably don't even know what that is, and I was really dating myself. To which I immediately responded that I may as well date myself, as no one else has recently shown any interest in doing so.


My second African birthday was celebrated at a German restaraunt in Ouaga. I ordered a steak roquefort, and for the first time since arriving here was asked how I wanted it cooked! I wonder, gentle reader, if you can really appreciate how big a deal that was. It was a wonderful way to spend my birthday. Then we all went to a bar where my friends bought me and my birthday buddy (one of my neighbors from the group that just swore in shares my birthday!) shots of Johnny Walker. Good steak, then good whisky. Yes, I was very content that night.

Swear In

Went great! We now have 32 awesome new volunteers. I prepared an informal powerpoint presentation describing the SE program that was run during the reception after the ceremony; likewise other volunteers prepared presentations describing their own sectors. I was very happy with our finished product, but it was completely ignored by nearly everyone there in favor of the table we set up selling moringa products. Oh well, it's nice to see such a strong interest in moringa! Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the outfit I wore (a bright yellow boubou, a traditional Muslim garment here that looks like nothing else so much as a nightgown with pants underneath) but there ARE pictures, I made sure someone took some. I just haven't gotten them yet. Afterwards, as we were catching a bus early the next morning for GHANA(!!!), we decided to basically stay out all night dancing. Which I did with shameless abandon.

Ghana Vacation!
Wow. Just, wow. Without any exaggeration whatsoever, the moment you cross the border from Burkina into Ghana, the difference is profound. Thanks to their port and their well established tourism, Ghana's level of development is miles, light years ahead of ours. We felt like we'd gone back to the States - though I know full well if I'd come straight from Atlanta to Ghana I wouldn't see it that way at all. Really, though, I lack the words to describe the difference. But that's never stopped me before! Ok, I'll give a couple of examples. Technology: On the BF side of the border, the process to record your passport is to fill out the salient details in a notebook. On the Ghana side, your passport is scanned into a computer. Literacy: In Burkina, I have to come to Ouaga to find a bookstore, and pretty much any signage on the road outside the capital is for an association or government office. In Ghana bookstores abound; almost every hotel we stayed at had a bookshelf in the reception where you could trade a book you'd read for a new one; and there are billboards for everything from adverts for phone companies to signs urging you to do your part to stop domestic violence. Environment: In Burkina, the world is your garbage can. In Ghana, there are civic garbage cans even in the smaller towns.

I have NEVER seen a sign like this in BF.

Ok, I'll stop dwelling on that point now and instead bask in the memory of how awesomely great the vacation was.

With a few exceptions, I found Ghanaians to be less exuberant than Burkinabé. I don't mean less friendly, exactly, just less imposing with their friendliness. I've seen Ghana described as "Africa for beginners," and I can understand why. If you are considering an Africa trip but worry about culture shock, you should really consider Ghana. A few interesting quirks of the language: people say "You are welcome" to actually mean that you are welcome, as in they're glad you're there. But when someone just randomly says that to you, you can't help but think, "Was I supposed to just thank him for something?" Also, I find it absolutely endearing that when answering a yes-or-no question in the affirmative, they will say "Yes, please": "Do you have Castle Milk Stout?" "Yes, please. How many would you like?" Speaking of, CMS is a beer that would be well-received in America it's so good. Finally, the signs in the hotels cracked me up: they say basically that the hotel isn't responsible for items stolen from your room, so if you have something you're worried about you should check it with the front desk. The phrase they actually use is "You must hand over valuables to the front desk." Ha!

We started off by stopping in the second-largest city in Ghana, Kumasi, which has (arguably) the largest market in West Africa. It's dazzling, intense, confusing, and wonderful. We got completely lost, of course, but that just meant we got to walk around all the more.

A small fraction of the Kumasi market

From there we went down to Cape Coast, site of the Cape Coast Castle, an old British slave-trading fort. The tour would have been more interesting, I think, if we hadn't been with a group of rowdy Ivoirians who in my opinion really didn't show the proper respect to what was a horrible time in their neighbors' (and their own) not-so-distant past. Also, the tour guide was pretty pissy ("People, can you PLEASE be quiet so I can continue the tour?"). But still, it was a sight worth seeing (and one, it turns out, that President Obama saw on his recent visit to Ghana).
This is one of the NICER rooms.
From there, we made a trip to Kakum National Park, a rainforest reserve about 30km north of the coast. We went on the "canopy walk," a series of rope bridges and platforms built 30-40 meters (90-120 feet) over the floor of the forest. Naturally, you get a pretty incredible view from that high up. And while they're described as "rope" bridges, to be entirely accurate you'd have to call them rope and metal and wood and steel cable bridges. My comment to my traveling companion, K, was that they are rockety, but not rickety.
Not recommended for the agoraphobic.
After that adventure, we decided to take a break - we'd been traveling almost every day of our trip. We went to the beach in Busua and stayed for four nights and did nothing but lounge in hammocks by the beach (it was kind of cold, and the surf wasn't high enough to convince us it was worth being that cold to barely body surf), read, and eat ridiculously delicious seafood. K at one point found some Fulfulde speakers and chatted with them - I am forever complaining to her how jealous I am of her for that, but she DID already speak French when we got here, to be fair. It was neat seeing the way the surf swirled the very fine sand as it hit the shore - prosaicly, it reminded me of what my laundry water looks like after a full load.
The view from the rooftop bar across the street from our cabin on the beach.
On our way back up to Burkina, we stopped in Kumasi again. We went back to the restaurant we'd loved the first time through, but knowing the town a little better I took us by a different root. I bragged to K that I was glad I knew the town better and could take us around this other road so we could avoid all of the faux types; naturally the echo of my voice hadn't even died away when we were approached by a guy trying to sell us the same mediocre acrylic paintings that everyone else in that area wanted to sell us. Sigh.
We made a stop at a monkey reserve before leaving. In the towns of Baobeng and Fiera, monkeys are sacred, and if a person is found to have brought harm to one, the same harm is brought to him or her. So the monkeys are very habituated to people. The Colobus monkeys stay in the treetops, but the Mona monkeys will come down, and if you have a bit of patience, will take food right out of your hands! One actually held my hand for a few seconds.
YOU try taking a picture while feeding a monkey!
This one I don't have as good an excuse for, just that my flash takes forever.
The ficus is a parasitic tree that eventually kills its host, leaving a hollow mesh structure you can climb.
Our last adventure of the trip was the result of a misunderstanding. After the monkey reserve, we didn't have time to get any farther than Techiman, which is a large enough town but not touristy, so we didn't know where to stay (there's nothing in the guide book, and no one we know had ever stopped there - though it DOES have the largest cloth market in the country, which we unfortunately missed by no more than an hour). We asked the cab driver to bring us to a "cheap" guest house. Well, it turns out there's a guest house named "C. Guest House," which is what he thought we said. It was indeed cheap. It was also indeed the chosen guest house for a large group of merchants who had decided to hire some prostitutes to blow off some steam before leaving after the big market. Quite a switch from the Presbyterian Mission we'd stayed at in Kumasi the night before! The first thing said to me when I walked into the office by a guy who was hanging out (waiting his turn?) was "What's your name, white man? I like your style!"
The last two days of the trip were a series of bad transport taken in an effort to go somewhere we finally decided we just couldn't get to without going crazy. But in the end we got back into Burkina, a day earlier than planned even (you see, we knew going in that the aforementioned destination might be dicey to get to), which was great because it meant we didn't miss the going away party for a really cool volunteer who is by now trekking through Uganda in search of mountain gorillas. I could say so much more about the trip than I have, but enough's enough.

So, it's been a hell of a summer, and I'm both glad I had it AND glad it's almost over. I'm exhausted! Soon I'll be going back to site, where I hope to stay for a long time and settle in (well, I may do some day trips to neighboring villages before school starts). So it will be some time before I can update you on my exploits. Oh! Almost forgot the shoutout. Tonight (I've spent several hours on this post, it's late!) the shoutout is for Vernon and Nancy, two friends of my mom's who have been very supportive both of me, and, more importantly, her! Cheers, ladies!


Igor XA said...

ok, ok, i know i haven't been the best friend lately, but i just learned something totally new, and i'm gonna make it an excuse to mail you something, if you want to play along. let's just call it a collaborative art project, yes? if all goes well, we could even have a gallery show and sell prints. interested? all you would need to do is a) have a dark place (i don't imagine this is too difficult where you are, even outside away from lights should work fine), and b) be able to place objects where they won't be disturbed for weeks to months at a time. i'm running some experiments right now to make sure things work like i want them to, and then i'll be putting together a package for you. it'll be fun!

eileen said...

Talked with Nancy;she was honored to be included. Will see Vernon, tomorrow. Thanks,son. :>